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1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus
The modern portrayal of Santa Claus frequently depicts him listening to the Christmas wishes of young children.

Santa Claus, also known as Saint Nicholas,[1] Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Kris Kringle or simply "Santa", is a legendary figure who, in many Western cultures, brings gifts to the homes of the good children during the late evening and overnight hours of Christmas Eve, December 24[2] or on his Feast Day, December 6 (Saint Nicholas Day).[3] The legend may have part of its basis in hagiographical tales concerning the historical figure of gift giver Saint Nicholas. A nearly identical story is attributed by Greek and Byzantine folklore to Basil of Caesarea. Basil's feast day on January 1 is considered the time of exchanging gifts in Greece.

While Saint Nicholas was originally portrayed wearing bishop's robes, today Santa Claus is generally depicted as a plump, jolly, white-bearded man wearing a red coat with white collar and cuffs, white-cuffed red trousers, and black leather belt and boots. This image became popular in the United States and Canada in the 19th century due to the significant influence of caricaturist and political cartoonist Thomas Nast.[4][5][6] This image has been maintained and reinforced through song, radio, television, and films. In the United Kingdom and Europe, he is often depicted in a manner identical to the American Santa Claus, but he is commonly called Father Christmas.

A well-known folk legend associated with Santa Claus says that he lives in the far north, in a land of perpetual snow. The American version of Santa Claus says that he lives at his house on the North Pole, while Father Christmas is often said to reside in the mountains of Korvatunturi in Lapland Province, Finland. Santa Claus lives with his wife Mrs. Claus, a countless number of magical elves, and eight or nine flying reindeer. Another legend of Santa Claus says that he makes a list of children throughout the world, categorizing them according to their behavior ("naughty" or "nice") and that he delivers presents, including toys, candy, and other gifts to all of the good boys and girls in the world, and sometimes coal to the naughty children, on the single night of Christmas Eve. He accomplishes this feat with the aid of the elves who make the toys in the workshop and the reindeer who pull his sleigh.[7][8]



Early Christian origins

A medieval fresco depicting St Nicholas from the Boyana Church, near Sofia, Bulgaria

Saint Nicholas of Myra is the primary inspiration for the Christian figure of Santa Claus. He was a 4th-century Greek Christian bishop of Myra (now Demre) in Lycia, a province of the Byzantine Anatolia, now in Turkey. Nicholas was famous for his generous gifts to the poor, in particular presenting the three impoverished daughters of a pious Christian with dowries so that they would not have to become prostitutes.[9] He was very religious from an early age and devoted his life entirely to Christianity. In Europe (more precisely the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Germany) he is still portrayed as a bearded bishop in canonical robes. In 1087, the Italian city of Bari, wanting to enter the profitable pilgrimage industry of the times, mounted an expedition to locate the tomb of the Christian Saint and procure his remains. The reliquary of St. Nicholas was desecrated by Italian sailors and the spoils, including his relics, taken to Bari[10][11] where they are kept to this day. A basilica was constructed the same year to store the loot and the area became a pilgrimage site for the devout, thus justifying the economic cost of the expedition. Irish historians say that his remains were moved on again from Italy to Jerpoint Abbey in County Kilkenny, where his grave can still be seen.[12] Saint Nicholas was later claimed as a patron saint of many diverse groups, from archers, sailor, and children to pawnbrokers.[9][13] He is also the patron saint of both Amsterdam and Moscow.[14]

Influence of Germanic paganism and folklore

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God Odin by Georg von Rosen

Numerous parallels have been drawn between Santa Claus and the figure of Odin, a major god amongst the Germanic peoples prior to their Christianization. Since many of these elements are unrelated to Christianity, there are theories regarding the pagan origins of various customs of the holiday stemming from areas where the Germanic peoples were Christianized and retained elements of their indigenous traditions, surviving in various forms into modern depictions of Santa Claus.[15]

Odin was sometimes recorded, at the native Germanic holiday of Yule, as leading a great hunting party through the sky.[16] Two books from Iceland, the Poetic Edda, compiled in the 13th century from earlier sources, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, describe Odin as riding an eight-legged horse named Sleipnir that could leap great distances, giving rise to comparisons to Santa Claus's reindeer.[17] Further, Odin was referred to by many names in Skaldic poetry, some of which describe his appearance or functions; these include Síðgrani,[18] Síðskeggr,[19] Langbarðr,[20] (all meaning "long beard") and Jólnir[21] ("Yule figure").

According to Phyllis Siefker, children would place their boots, filled with carrots, straw, or sugar, near the chimney for Odin's flying horse, Sleipnir, to eat. Odin would then reward those children for their kindness by replacing Sleipnir's food with gifts or candy. This practice, she claims, survived in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands after the adoption of Christianity and became associated with Saint Nicholas as a result of the process of Christianization and can be still seen in the modern practice of the hanging of stockings at the chimney in some homes.[22]

This practice in turn came to the United States through the Dutch colony of New Amsterdam prior to the British seizure in the 17th century, and evolved into the hanging of socks or stockings at the fireplace.[citation needed]

One story tells of a poor man and his three daughters. With no money to get his daughters married, he was worried what would happen to them after his death. Saint Nicholas knowing the anguish of the father, stopped by the man's house after the family had gone to bed. He had three bags of gold coins with him, one for each girl. Seeing the daughters stockings hung over the fireplace for drying, he put one gold bag in each stocking and left. The girls waking up the next morning, they each found a bag of gold coins in their stocking. This led to the custom of children hanging stockings or putting out shoes, eagerly awaiting gifts from Saint Nicholas.[23]

In Hungary, many regions of Austria and former Austro-Hungarian Italy (Friuli, city of Trieste) children are given sweets and gifts on Saint Nicholas's Day (San Niccolò in Italian), in accordance with the Catholic calendar, December 6.[citation needed]

Numerous other influences from the pre-Christian Germanic winter celebrations have continued into modern Christmas celebrations such as the Christmas ham, Yule Goat, Yule log, and the Christmas tree.[citation needed]

Pre-Christian Alpine traditions

Originating from pre-Christian Alpine traditions and influenced by later Christianization, the Krampus is represented as a Companion of Saint Nicholas. Traditionally, some young men dress up as the Krampus in the first two weeks of December and particularly on the evening of December 5 and roam the streets frightening children (and adults) with rusty chains and bells.

Dutch folklore

Sinterklaas in 2007

In The Netherlands and Belgium, Saint Nicolas, ("Sinterklaas", often called "De Goede Sint" — "The Friendly Saint") is aided by helpers commonly known as Zwarte Piet ("Black Peter") in Dutch or "Père Fouettard" in French. Note that "Santa Claus" is phonetically related to the Dutch "Sinterklaas". So much so that for a Dutch person the origin of the name "Santa Claus" is obvious, its just "sinterklaas" pronounced in English.[24]

His feast on the 6th of December came to be celebrated in many countries with the giving of gifts. At the Reformation in 16th-17th century Europe, many Protestants changed the gift bringer to the Christ Child or Christkindl, and the date of giving gifts changed from December the 6th to Christmas Eve.[25]

The folklore of Saint Nicolas has many parallels with Germanic mythology, in particular with the god Odin. These include the beard, hat and spear (nowadays a staff) and the cloth bag held by the servants to capture naughty children. Both Saint Nicolas and Odin ride white horses that can fly through the air; the white eight-legged steed of Odin is named Sleipnir (although Sleipnir is more commonly depicted as gray). The letters made of candy given by the Zwarte Pieten to the children evokes the fact that Odin ‘invented’ the rune letters. The poems made during the celebration and the songs the children sing relate to Odin as the god of the arts of poetry.

There are various explanations of the origins of the helpers. The oldest explanation is that the helpers symbolize the two ravens Hugin and Munin who informed Odin on what was going on. In later stories the helper depicts the defeated devil. The devil is defeated by either Odin or his helper Nörwi, the black father of the night. Nörwi is usually depicted with the same staff of birch (Dutch: "roe") as Zwarte Piet.

Another, more modern story is that Saint Nicolas liberated an Ethiopian slave boy called 'Piter' (from Saint Peter) from a Myra market, and the boy was so grateful he decided to stay with Saint Nicolas as a helper. With the influx of immigrants to the Netherlands starting in the late 1950s, this story is felt by some to be racist[26]. Today, Zwarte Piet have become modern servants, who have black faces because they climb through chimneys, causing their skin to become blackened by soot. They hold chimney cleaning tools (cloth bag and staff of birch).[27]

Until the Second World War, Saint Nicolas was only helped by one servant. When the Canadians liberated the Netherlands in 1945, they reinstated the celebrations of Sinterklaas for the children. Unaware of the traditions, the Canadians thought that if one Zwarte Piet was fun, several Zwarte Pieten is even more fun. Ever since Saint Nicolas is helped by a group of Zwarte Pieten.[citation needed]

Presents given during this feast are often accompanied by poems, some basic, some quite elaborate pieces of art that mock events in the past year relating to the recipient. The gifts themselves may be just an excuse for the wrapping, which can also be quite elaborate. The more serious gifts may be reserved for the next morning. Since the giving of presents is Sinterklaas's job, presents are traditionally not given at Christmas in the Netherlands, although the latter is gaining popularity.

The Zwarte Pieten have roughly the same role for the Dutch Saint Nicolas that the elves have to America's Santa Claus. According to tradition, the saint has a Piet for every function: there are navigation Pieten to navigate the steamboat from Spain to Holland, or acrobatic Pieten for climbing up the roofs to stuff presents through the chimney, or to climb through themselves. Throughout the years many stories have been added, mostly made up by parents to keep children's belief in Saint Nicolas intact and to discourage misbehaviour. In most cases the Pieten are quite lousy at their job, such as the navigation Piet (Dutch "wegwijspiet") pointing in the wrong direction. This is often used to provide some simple comedy in the annual parade of Saint Nicolas coming to the Netherlands, and can also be used to laud the progress of children at school by having the Piet give the wrong answer to, for example, a simple mathematical question like 2+2, so that the child in question is (or can be) persuaded to give the right answer.

In the Netherlands and in Belgium the character of Santa Claus, as known in the United States (with his white beard, red and white outfit, etc.), is entirely distinct from Sinterklaas, known instead as de Kerstman in Dutch (trans. the Christmasman) or Père Noël (Father Christmas) in French. Although Sinterklaas is the predominant gift-giver in the Netherlands in December (36% of the population only give presents on Sinterklaas day), Christmas is used by another fifth of the Dutch population to give presents (21% give presents on Christmas only). Some 26% of the Dutch population give presents on both days.[28] In Belgium, presents are given to children only, but to almost all of them, on Sinterklaas day. On Christmas Day, everybody receives presents, but often without Santa Claus' help.

Modern origins

"Scrooge's second Visitor", a colorized version of the original illustration by John Leech made for the Charles Dickens festive classic A Christmas Carol (1843)

Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore, notably St Nicholas and Sinterklaas, merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus. Father Christmas dates back at least as far as the 17th century in Britain, and pictures of him survive from that era, portraying him as a jolly well-nourished bearded man dressed in a long, green, fur-lined robe. He typified the spirit of good cheer at Christmas, and was reflected as the "Ghost of Christmas Present", in Charles Dickens Festive classic A Christmas Carol, a great genial man in a green coat lined with fur who takes Scrooge through the bustling streets of London on the current Christmas morning, sprinkling the essence of Christmas onto the happy populace.

Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding on a goat

In other countries, the figure of Saint Nicholas was also blended with local folklore. As an example of the still surviving pagan imagery, in Nordic countries the original bringer of gifts at Christmas time was the Yule Goat, a somewhat startling figure with horns.

In the 1840s however, an elf in Nordic folklore called "Tomte" or "Nisse" started to deliver the Christmas presents in Denmark. The Tomte was portrayed as a short, bearded man dressed in gray clothes and a red hat. This new version of the age-old folkloric creature was obviously inspired by the Santa Claus traditions that were now spreading to Scandinavia. By the end of the 19th century this tradition had also spread to Norway and Sweden, replacing the Yule Goat. The same thing happened in Finland, but there the more human figure retained the Yule Goat name. But even though the tradition of the Yule Goat as a bringer of presents is now all but extinct, a straw goat is still a common Christmas decoration in all of Scandinavia.

American variations

In the British colonies of North America and later the United States, British and Dutch versions of the gift-giver merged further. For example, in Washington Irving's History of New York, (1809), Sinterklaas was Americanized into "Santa Claus" (a name first used in the American press in 1773)[29] but lost his bishop’s apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Irving’s book was a lampoon of the Dutch culture of New York, and much of this portrait is his joking invention.

In 1821, the book A New-year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve is published in New York. It contains Old Santeclaus, an anonymous poem describing an old man on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children[30]. Some modern ideas of Santa Claus seemingly became canon after the publication of the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas") in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823 anonymously; the poem was later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore.[9] Many of his modern attributes are established in this poem, such as riding in a sleigh that lands on the roof, entering through the chimney, and having a bag full of toys. St. Nick is described as being "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with "a little round belly", that "shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly", in spite of which the "miniature sleigh" and "tiny reindeer" still indicate that he is physically diminutive. The reindeer were also named: "Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen, On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Dunder and Blixem" (Dunder and Blixem was later changed to Donner and Blitzen).[31]

As years pass, Santa Claus evolves in popular culture into a large, heavyset person. One of the first artists to define Santa Claus's modern image was Thomas Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1863, a picture of Santa illustrated by Nast appeared in Harper's Weekly.

Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus with an illustration for the January 3, 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly.

The story that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole may also have been a Nast creation. His Christmas image in the Harper’s issue dated December 29, 1866 was a collage of engravings titled Santa Claus and His Works, which included the caption "Santa Claussville, N.P."[32] A color collection of Nast's pictures, published in 1869, had a poem also titled "Santa Claus and His Works" by George P. Webster, who wrote that Santa Claus’s home was "near the North Pole, in the ice and snow".[33] The legend had become well known by the 1870s. A boy from Colorado writing to the children's magazine The Nursery in late 1874 said, "If we didn't live so very far from the North Pole, I should ask Santa Claus to bring me a donkey."[34]

L. Frank Baum's The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, a 1902 children's book, further popularized Santa Claus. Much of Santa Claus’s mythos was not set in stone at the time, leaving Baum to give his "Neclaus" (Necile’s Little One) a wide variety of immortal support, a home in the Laughing Valley of Hohaho, and ten reindeer which could not fly, but leapt in enormous, flight-like bounds. Claus's immortality was earned, much like his title ("Santa"), decided by a vote of those naturally immortal. This work also established Claus’s motives: a happy childhood among immortals. When Ak, Master Woodsman of the World, exposes him to the misery and poverty of children in the outside world, Santa strives to find a way to bring joy into the lives of all children, and eventually invents toys as a principal means.

Images of Santa Claus were further popularized through Haddon Sundblom’s depiction of him for The Coca-Cola Company’s Christmas advertising in the 1930s.[9] The popularity of the image spawned urban legends that Santa Claus was invented by The Coca-Cola Company or that Santa wears red and white because they are the colors used to promote the Coca-Cola brand.[35] Historically, Coca-Cola was not the first soft drink company to utilize the modern image of Santa Claus in its advertising – White Rock Beverages used Santa to sell mineral water in 1915 and then in advertisements for its ginger ale in 1923.[citation needed] Further, the Coca-Cola advertising campaign had the effect of popularising the depiction of Santa as wearing red and white, in contrast to the variety of colours he wore prior to that campaign; red and white was originally given by Nast.[36][37]

A man dressed up as Santa Claus fundraising for Volunteers of America on the sidewalk of street in Chicago, Illinois, in 1902. He is wearing a mask with a beard attached.

The image of Santa Claus as a benevolent character became reinforced with its association with charity and philanthropy, particularly by organizations such as the Salvation Army. Volunteers dressed as Santa Claus typically became part of fundraising drives to aid needy families at Christmas time.

The idea of a wife for Santa Claus may have been the creation of American authors, beginning in the mid-1800s. In 1889, the poet Katherine Lee Bates popularized Mrs. Claus in the poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride". The 1956 popular song by George Melachrino, "Mrs. Santa Claus", and the 1963 children's book How Mrs. Santa Claus Saved Christmas, by Phyllis McGinley, helped standardize and establish the character and role in the popular imagination.

In some images from the early 20th century, Santa was depicted as personally making his toys by hand in a small workshop like a craftsman. Eventually, the idea emerged that he had numerous elves responsible for making the toys, but the toys were still handmade by each individual elf working in the traditional manner.

The concept of Santa Claus continues to inspire writers and artists, as in author Seabury Quinn’s 1948 novel Roads, which draws from historical legends to tell the story of Santa and the origins of Christmas. Other modern additions to the "mythology" of Santa include Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, the ninth and lead reindeer immortalized in a Gene Autry song, written by a Montgomery Ward copywriter.

Chimney tradition

The tradition of Santa Claus entering dwellings through the chimney may reach back to the tale of Saint Nicholas tossing coins through a window, and, in a later version of the tale, tossing coins down a chimney when he finds the window locked. In Dutch artist Jan Steen's painting, The Feast of Saint Nicholas, adults and toddlers are glancing up a chimney with amazement on their faces while other children play with their toys. The hearth was held sacred in primitive belief as a source of beneficence, and popular belief had elves and fairies bringing gifts to the house through this portal. Santa's entrance into homes on Christmas Eve via the chimney was made part of American tradition through Moore's A Visit from Saint Nicholas where the author described him as an elf.[38]

In popular culture

By the end of the 20th century, the reality of mass mechanized production became more fully accepted by the Western public. That shift was reflected in the modern depiction of Santa's residence—now often humorously portrayed as a fully mechanized production and distribution facility, equipped with the latest manufacturing technology, and overseen by the elves with Santa and Mrs. Claus as executives and/or managers.[39] An excerpt from a 2004 article, from a supply chain managers' trade magazine, aptly illustrates this depiction:

Santa's main distribution center is a sight to behold. At 4,000,000 square feet (370,000 m2), it's one of the world's largest facilities. A real-time warehouse management system is of course required to run such a complex. The facility makes extensive use of task interleaving, literally combining dozens of DC activities (putaway, replenishing, order picking, sleigh loading, cycle counting) in a dynamic queue...the DC elves have been on engineered standards and incentives for three years, leading to a 12% gain in productivity...The WMS and transportation system are fully integrated, allowing (the elves) to make optimal decisions that balance transportation and order picking and other DC costs. Unbeknownst to many, Santa actually has to use many sleighs and fake Santa drivers to get the job done Christmas Eve, and the TMS optimally builds thousands of consolidated sacks that maximize cube utilization and minimize total air miles.[40]
Santa, otherwise known as Father Christmas, pays a visit to some children in the 1950s.

Many television commercials, comic strips and other media depict this as a sort of humorous business, with Santa's elves acting as a sometimes mischievously disgruntled workforce, cracking jokes and pulling pranks on their boss. For instance, an early Bloom County story has Santa telling the story of how his elves went on strike, only to be fired by Ronald Reagan and replaced by unemployed aircraft control personnel.[citation needed]

NORAD, the joint Canadian-American military organization responsible for air defense, regularly reports tracking Santa Claus every year.[41]

In Kyrgyzstan, a mountain peak was named after Santa Claus, after a Swedish company had suggested the location be a more efficient starting place for present-delivering journeys all over the world, than Lapland. In the Kyrgyz capital, Bishkek, a Santa Claus Festival was held on December 30, 2007, with government officials attending. 2008 was officially declared the Year of Santa Claus in the country. The events are seen as moves to boost tourism in Kyrgyzstan,[42] which is predominately Muslim.

The Guiness World Record for the largest gathering of Santa Clauses is held by Derry City, Northern Ireland. On September 9, 2007. A total of 12,965 people dressed up as Santa or Santa's helper brought down the previous record of 3,921, which was set during the Santa Dash event in Liverpool City Centre in 2005.[43] A gathering of Santas in 2009 in Bucharest, Hungary attempted top the world record, but failed with only 3939 Santas. [44]


Santa Claus has often been compared to other fictional characters, such as the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, as they all visit young children's homes on certain nights, leaving gifts for all of the 'good' boys and girls.


A visit to a department store Santa Claus, 1956

Rituals surrounding Santa Claus are performed throughout the world by children hoping to receive gifts from the mythical character. Some rituals (such as visiting a department store Santa) occur in the weeks and days before Christmas while others, such as preparing snacks for Santa, are specific to Christmas Eve. Some rituals, such as setting out stockings to be filled with gifts, are age-old traditions while others, such as NORAD's tracking of Santa's sleigh through the night skies on Christmas Eve, are modern inventions.

Parades, department stores, and shopping malls

Santa Claus appears in the weeks before Christmas in department stores or shopping malls, or at parties. The practice of this has been credited to James Edgar, as he started doing this in 1890 in his Brockton, Massachusetts department store.[45] He is played by an actor, usually helped by other actors (often mall employees) dressed as elves or other creatures of folklore associated with Santa. Santa's function is either to promote the store's image by distributing small gifts to children, or to provide a seasonal experience to children by listening to their wishlist while having them sit on his knee (a practice now under review by some organisations in Britain,[46] and Switzerland[47]). Sometimes a photograph of the child and Santa are taken. Having a Santa set up to take pictures with children is a ritual that dates back at least to 1918.[48]

Eaton's Santa Claus Parade, 1918, Toronto, Canada. Having arrived at the Eaton's department store, Santa is readying his ladder to climb up onto the building.

The area set up for this purpose is festively decorated, usually with a large throne, and is called variously "Santa's Grotto", "Santa's Workshop" or a similar term. In the United States, the most notable of these is the Santa at the flagship Macy's store in New York City - he arrives at the store by sleigh in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the last float, and his court takes over a large portion of one floor in the store. The Macy's Santa Claus is often said to be the real Santa. Essayist David Sedaris is known for the satirical diary he kept while working as an elf in the Macy's display, which he later published.

Quite often the Santa, if and when he is detected to be fake, says that he is not the real Santa and is helping him at this time of year. Most young children seem to understand this, as the real Santa would be extremely busy around Christmas. At family parties, Santa is sometimes impersonated by the male head of the household or other adult male family member.

Letter writing

Writing letters to Santa Claus has been a Christmas tradition for children for many years. These letters normally contain a wishlist of toys and assertions of good behavior. Some social scientists have found that boys and girls write different types of letters. Girls generally write longer but more polite lists and express the nature of Christmas more in their letters than in letters written by boys. Girls also request gifts for other people on a more frequent basis [Otnes, Kim, and Kim, 20-21].

Many postal services allow children to send letters to Santa Claus pleading their good behavior and requesting gifts; these letters may be answered by postal workers or other volunteers. Canada Post has a special postal code for letters to Santa Claus, and since 1982 over 13,000 Canadian postal workers have volunteered to write responses. His address is: Santa Claus, North Pole, Canada, H0H 0H0 [5] (see also: Ho ho ho). (This postal code, in which zeroes are used for the letter "O" is consistent with the alternating letter-number format of all Canadian postal codes.) Sometimes children's charities answer letters in poorer communities or from children's hospitals in order to give them presents that they would not otherwise receive.

In Britain it is tradition to burn the Christmas letters on the fire so that they would be magically transported by the wind to the North Pole. However, this tradition is dying out in modern times with few people having true open fires in their homes. Recently however, national postal service Royal Mail revived the tradition by giving "Santa Claus" a special address: Santa/Father Christmas, Santa’s Grotto, Reindeerland, SAN TA1. [6] For 2009, an alternative has been used: Father Christmas, North Pole, SAN TA1. [7]

In Mexico and other Latin American countries, besides using the mail, sometimes children wrap their letters to a small helium balloon, releasing them into the air so Santa magically receives them.

Through the years Santa Claus of Finland has received over eight million letters. He gets over 600,000 letters every year from over 150 countries. Children from Great Britain, Poland and Japan are the busiest writers. The Finnish Santa Claus lives in Korvatunturi but Santa's Official Post Office is situated in Rovaniemi at the Arctic circle. His address is: Santa Claus, Santa Claus Village, FIN-96930 Arctic Circle, Finland.

Children can also receive a letter from Santa through agencies such as Santa ThePenPal. Parents can order a personalized "Santa letter" to be sent to their child, often with a North Pole postmark. The "Santa Letter" market generally relies on the internet as a medium for ordering such letters rather than retail stores.

In the United States, letters to Santa are routed to North Pole, Alaska, where they are answered by volunteers.

Is There a Santa Claus? was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, has become an indelible part of popular Christmas lore in the United States and Canada.

Websites and e-mail

The Christmas issue of NOAA's Weather Bureau Topics with "Santa Claus" streaking across a weather radar screen, 1958.

Some people have created websites designed to allow children and other interested parties to "track" Santa Claus on Christmas Eve via radar.

1955 Sears ad with the misprinted telephone number that led to the NORAD Tracks Santa Program
Canadian NORAD Region Jet Fighters and Santa Claus Escort

In 1955, a Sears Roebuck store in Colorado Springs, Colorado, gave children a number to call a "Santa hotline". The number was mistyped and children called the Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) on Christmas Eve instead. The Director of Operations, Col. Harry Shoup, received the first call for Santa and responded by telling children that there were signs on the radar that Santa was indeed heading south from North Pole. In 1958, Canada and the United States jointly created the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) and together tracked Santa Claus for children of North America that year and ever since.[49] This tracking can now be done by children and the young at heart via the Internet and NORAD's website.

The NORAD Tracks Santa website from 1998 thru 2005 showed that as Santa approached Newfoundland in Canada, a flight of Canadian Air Force fighters (CF-18 Hornets as of 2005) had a rendezvous with Santa in order to provide him an escort/honor guard and ensure that he had no difficulty with the various Air Defense Identification Zones (ADIZ) he must enter flying through Canada. [8][50] The Canadian NORAD Region still designates escort pilots for the annual Christmas Eve journey of Santa Claus, even for those years when a Santa Cam video is not shown of their escorts duties.[51] [52] [53] [54] [55]

Many local television stations in the United States and Canada likewise track Santa Claus in their own metropolitan areas through the stations' meteorologists.

Many other websites are available year-round that are devoted to Santa Claus and keeping tabs on his activities in his workshop. Many of these websites also include e-mail addresses, a modern version of the postal service letter writing, in which children can send Santa Claus e-mail. The only criticism about this is that it is a bot sending the e-mail. Many children criticized this, as Santa would not answer their questions.[citation needed]

Two organizations, that were past NORAD Tracks Santa partners and corporate sponsors, that handle e-mail to and from Santa Claus are Canada Post (Canada's Post Office) [56] and Official Santa Mail [9] [57]

Christmas Eve rituals

In the United States and Canada, children traditionally leave Santa a glass of milk and a plate of cookies; in Britain and Australia, he is sometimes given sherry and mince pies instead. In Sweden, children leave rice porridge. In Ireland it is popular to give him Guinness or milk, along with cookies or mince pies.

In Hungary, St. Nicolaus (Mikulás) comes on the night of December 5th and the children get their gifts the next morning. They get sweets in a bag if they were good, and a golden colored birch switch if not. On Christmas Eve "Little Jesus" comes and gives gifts for everyone.

In Slovenia, Saint Nicholas (Miklavž) also brings small gifts for good children on the eve of December 6th. Božiček (Christmas Man) brings gifts on the eve of December 25th, and Dedek Mraz (Grandfather Frost) brings gifts in the evening of December 31 to be opened on New Years Day.

British, Australian, Irish, Canadian and American children also leave a carrot for Santa's reindeer, and were traditionally told that if they are not good all year round, that they will receive a lump of coal in their stockings, although this practice is now considered archaic. Children following the Dutch custom for sinterklaas will "put out their shoe" — that is, leave hay and a carrot for his horse in a shoe before going to bed—sometimes weeks before the sinterklaas avond. The next morning they will find the hay and carrot replaced by a gift; often, this is a marzipan figurine. Naughty children were once told that they would be left a roe (a bundle of sticks) instead of sweets, but this practice has been discontinued.

Other Christmas Eve Santa Claus rituals in the United States include reading Clement Clark Moore's A Visit from St. Nicholas or other tale about Santa Claus, watching a Santa or Christmas-related animated program on television (such as the aforementioned Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town and similar specials, such as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, A Charlie Brown Christmas and How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, among many others), and the singing of Santa Claus songs such as Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Here Comes Santa Claus, and Up on the Housetop. Last minute rituals for children before going to bed include aligning stockings at the mantelpiece or other place where Santa cannot fail to see them, peeking up the chimney (in homes with a fireplace), glancing out a window and scanning the heavens for Santa's sleigh, and (in homes without a fireplace), unlocking an exterior door so Santa can easily enter the house. Tags on gifts for children are sometimes signed by their parents, "From Santa Claus" before the gifts are laid beneath the tree.


Christian opposition

Despite Santa Claus's mixed Christian roots, he has become a secular representation of Christmas. As such, a small number of primarily Protestant fundamentalist Christian churches dislike the secular focus on Santa Claus and the materialist focus that gift giving brings to the holiday. Such a condemnation of Christmas is not a twentieth century phenomenon, but originated among some Protestant groups of the 16th century and was prevalent among the Puritans of 17th century England and colonial America who banned the holiday as either pagan or Roman Catholic. Christmas was made legal with the Restoration but the Puritan opposition to the holiday persisted in New England for almost two centuries.[58]

Excerpt from Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Father Christmas (1686), published shortly after Christmas was reinstated as a holy day in England. Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, D.C.

Following the Restoration of the monarchy and with Puritans out of power in England,[59] the ban on Christmas was satirized in works such as Josiah King's The Examination and Tryal of Old Father Christmas; Together with his Clearing by the Jury (1686) [Nissenbaum, chap. 1].

Rev. Paul Nedergaard, a clergyman in Copenhagen, Denmark, attracted controversy in 1958 when he declared Santa to be a "pagan goblin" after Santa's image was used on fund-raising materials for a Danish welfare organization Clar, 337. One prominent religious group that refuses to celebrate Santa Claus, or Christmas itself, for similar reasons is the Jehovah's Witnesses.[60] A number of denominations of Christians have varying concerns about Santa Claus, which range from acceptance to denouncement.[61][62]

Some Christians would prefer that the focus be given on the actual birth of Jesus, recognizing that Christmas stemmed from pagan festivals such as the Roman Saturnalia and Germanic Yule which were subsumed within ancient Christianity. An even smaller subset of nominally Reformed Christians actually prefer the secularized version of the holiday for the same reasons, believing that to relegate Christ's birth to Christmas is wrong.[63] Some Christian parents are simply uncomfortable about lying to their children about the existence of Santa.

Symbol of commercialism

In his book Nicholas: The Epic Journey from Saint to Santa Claus, writer Jeremy Seal describes how the commercialization of the Santa Claus legend began in the 1800s. "In the 1820s he began to acquire the recognizable trappings: reindeer, sleigh, bells," said Seal in an interview.[64] "They are simply the actual bearings in the world from which he emerged. At that time, sleighs were how you got about Manhattan."

Writing in Mothering, writer Carol Jean-Swanson makes similar points, noting that the original figure of St. Nicholas gave only to those who were needy and that today Santa Claus seems to be more about conspicuous consumption:

Our jolly old Saint Nicholas reflects our culture to a T, for he is fanciful, exuberant, bountiful, over-weight, and highly commercial. He also mirrors some of our highest ideals: childhood purity and innocence, selfless giving, unfaltering love, justice, and mercy. (What child has ever received a coal for Christmas?) The problem is that, in the process, he has become burdened with some of society's greatest challenges: materialism, corporate greed, and domination by the media. Here, Santa carries more in his baggage than toys alone![65]

In the Czech Republic, a group of advertising professionals started a website against Santa Claus, a relatively recent phenomenon in that country.[66] "Czech Christmases are intimate and magical. All that Santa stuff seems to me like cheap show business," said David König of the Creative Copywriters Club, pointing out that it is primarily an American and British tradition. "I'm not against Santa himself. I'm against Santa in my country only." In the Czech tradition, presents are delivered by Ježíšek, which translates as Baby Jesus.

In the United Kingdom, Santa—or Father Christmas -- was historically depicted wearing a green cloak. More recently, that has been changed to the more commonly known red suit.[67] One school in the seaside town of Brighton banned the use of a red suit for erroneously believing it was only indicative of the Coca-Cola advertising campaign. School spokesman Sarah James said: "The red-suited Santa was created as a marketing tool by Coca-Cola, it is a symbol of commercialism."[68] In reality, the red-suited Santa was created by Thomas Nast.[citation needed] Woolley posits that it is perhaps "kinship with the adult world" that causes children not to be angry that they were lied to for so long. The criticism about this deception is not that it is a simple lie, but a complicated series of very large lies.[69] The objections to the lie are that it is unethical for parents to lie to children without good cause, and that it discourages healthy skepticism in children.[69] With no greater good at the heart of the lie, it is charged that it is more about the parents than it is about the children. Writer Austin Cline posed the question: "Is it not possible that kids would find at least as much pleasure in knowing that parents are responsible for Christmas, not a supernatural stranger?"[69]

Others, however, see no harm in the belief in Santa Claus. Psychologist Tamar Murachver said in that it was a cultural, not parental, lie; thus, it does not undermine parental trust.[70] The New Zealand Skeptics also see no harm in parents telling their children that Santa is real. Spokesperson Vicki Hyde said, "It would be a hard-hearted parent indeed who frowned upon the innocent joys of our children's cultural heritage. We save our bah humbugs for the things that exploit the vulnerable."[70]

Dr. John Condry of Cornell University interviewed more than 500 children for a study of the issue and found that not a single child was angry at his or her parents for telling them Santa Claus was real. According to Dr. Condry, "The most common response to finding out the truth was that they felt older and more mature. They now knew something that the younger kids didn't."[71]

Islamic opposition in Bosnia

Santa Claus has been banned by the director of pre-school education in predominantly Muslim Sarajevo on 21 December 2008 on the grounds that he plays no part in Bosniak tradition.[72]

The controversial attack is the culmination of a long history of unsuccessful efforts by nationalists with Islamic leanings to ban him from the country.[72] The struggle first emerged in the aftermath of the Bosnian war when the wartime president, Alija Izetbegović, attempted to declare Santa Claus a communist-era 'fabrication'.[72] Although at the time Izetbegović's efforts were blocked after a public outcry, this time it was done by Arzija Mahmutović, director of the Children of Sarajevo group of public nurseries, apparently successfully.[citation needed]


Santa Claus's home traditionally includes a residence and a workshop where he creates - often with the aid of elves or other supernatural beings - the gifts he delivers to good children at Christmas. Some stories and legends include a village, inhabited by his helpers, surrounding his home and shop.

In North American tradition (in the United States and Canada), Santa lives on the North Pole, which according to Canada Post lies within Canadian jurisdiction in postal code H0H 0H0, although postal codes starting with H are usually reserved for the island of Montreal in Québec. On December 23 2008, Jason Kenney, Canada's minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism, formally awarded Canadian citizenship status to Santa Claus. "The Government of Canada wishes Santa the very best in his Christmas Eve duties and wants to let him know that, as a Canadian citizen, he has the automatic right to re-enter Canada once his trip around the world is complete," Kenney said in an official statement.[73]

There is also a city named North Pole in Alaska where a tourist attraction known as the "Santa Claus House" has been established. The US postal service uses the city's zip code of 99705 as their advertised postal code for Santa Claus. A Wendy's in North Pole, AK has also claimed to have a "sleigh fly through".[74]

Each Nordic country claims Santa's residence to be within their territory. Norway claims he lives in Drøbak. In Denmark, he is said to live in Greenland (near Uummannaq). In Sweden, the town of Mora has a themepark named Tomteland. The national postal terminal in Tomteboda in Stockholm receives children's letters for Santa. The Finnish town Rovaniemi has long been known in Finland as Santa's home, and has today a themepark called Santa Claus Village.

An old-fashioned Santa suit

Christmas gift-bringers around the world

Europe and North America

"Santa Claus" is generally recognized and celebrated in North America and in some European countries. Elsewhere, the winter holiday gift-giver's attributes, including name, appearance, story, and date of arrival, vary greatly.

  • Albania: Babagjyshi i Krishtlindjeve ("Grandfather Christmas");Babadimri ("Grandfather Winter")
  • Austria: Christkind ("Christ child")
  • Armenia: Ձմեռ Պապիկ (Dzmer Papik "Grandfather Winter")
  • Azerbaijan: Şaxta baba ("Grandfather Frost")
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina: Djeda Mraz (Ded Moroz, "Grandfather Frost")
  • Bulgaria: Дядо Коледа ("Grandfather Christmas"), Дядо Мраз ("Grandfather Frost") in the past
  • Canada: Santa Claus; Père Noël ("Father Christmas")
  • Croatia: Djed Mraz ("Grandfather Frost") or Djed Božičnjak ("Grandfather Christmas")
  • Czech Republic: Svatý Mikuláš ("Saint Nicholas") - he brings gifts in evening of 5 December, day before his holiday. He often gives sweets and fruits (for nice kids) and potatoes and coal (for naughty kids);
Ježíšek ( "child Jesus") - brings gifts in evening of 24th December (which differs from Santa Claus's gifting during night between 24th and 25th December) - kids are unpacking gifts in evening already.

Latin America

Santa Claus in Latin America is generally referred to as Papá Noel, but there are variations from country to country.


People around Asia, particularly countries that have adopted Western cultures, also celebrate Christmas and the gift-giver traditions passed down to them from the West. Some countries that observe and celebrate Christmas (especially as a public holiday) include Hong Kong, Philippines, East Timor, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, India, and the Christian communities within Central Asia and the Middle East.

  • Asia: Santa Claus
  • China: 聖誕老人 (pinyin: shèngdànlǎorén lit. Christmas old man)
  • Hong Kong: 聖誕老人 (jyutping: sing3 daan3 lou5 jan4 lit. Christmas old man) Santa Claus, Saint Nicholas, Father Christmas
  • India: Dada ("Christmas old man"), Thatha("Christmas old man" in telugu)
  • Japan: サンタさん、サンタクロース (romaji: santa-san (lit. Mr. Santa) santa kurōsu)
  • Korea: 산타 클로스 ("santa kullosu"), 산타 같이 보기 ("santa grandfather")
  • Vietnam: Ông già Noel ("The Christmas old man")

Africa and the Middle East

Christians in Africa and Middle East who celebrate Christmas generally ascribe to the gift-giver traditions passed down to them by Europeans in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Descendants of colonizers still residing in these regions likewise continue the practices of their ancestors.[10]

  • South Africa: Sinterklaas; Father Christmas; Santa Claus; Vader Kersfees
  • Lebanon: Papa Noel (Arabic: بابا نويل baba noel)
  • Egypt: Papa Noel (Arabic: بابا نويل baba noel)



See also

Related topics

Variations of Christmas around the world

Related figures in Historical Folklore


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